New Orleans House Project

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Prodigy Parrothead Project

In a previous post, I alluded to my stash of tropical fabrics, some of which went into my Four-Patch Parrot Quilt.  Much of that tropical fabric stash goes back to the early 1990s, when personal computers and Gulf & Western music collided to make a magical signature quilt!

Back in the early days of personal computers - when a modem was considered high tech - a group of fun-minded people met through a computer billboard service known as Prodigy.

These folks were attracted to a bulletin board topic called Parrothead Madness, drawn by their affinity for the music of singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett.  As friendships formed through online messages (no online chat functions at this time!) about Mr. Buffett's music and all things related, a plan was eventually formed to hold a meet-up in Key West, Florida.  The date was set well in advance, prompting plenty of planning and anticipation on the bulletin board.

I thought a signature friendship quilt would be a great way to commemorate this historic occasion.  The quilt would be raffled off during the visit to Key West, and the proceeds would all be donated to Save the Manatee, an organization Mr. Buffett helped establish in 1981.

Members of the Prodigy Parrothead Maddness board were invited to participate by sending me a half yard of a tropical fabric of their choice.  Yes, half-yard cuts are a huge amount of fabric, but fat quarters were essentially unheard of at that time (especially at chain fabric stores where I knew most of the fabrics would be purchased) and I thoroughly dislike quarter-yard cuts.

I pieced 25-block stars using the donated fabrics and white muslin, keeping the centers of the stars white so they could be filled with signatures, etc.  Each person who sent fabric received a pieced block by return mail, along with instructions for adding their artwork.  I even sent a block to Jimmy Buffett and asked for his autograph.

Eventually, a happy, gaudy, tropic collection of autographed/decorated blocks was assembled.  I found a fantastic fuchsia print for the sashing and quilted the blocks in a star pattern using silver metallic thread.  There was just enough time to enter the quilt in my local guild's quilt show before it made the trip to Key West.  I was stunned to receive an award in the Collaborative Quilt category and a Special Judge's Award for use of color!

Finally arriving in Key West, the quilt was seen in person for the first time by the Prodigy Parrotheads in attendance.  The folks at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Club hosted a party for the online feathered fans and the quilt was on display.

Yikes!  I can't believe this is the only full-size color picture I own of the quilt!

Many and more raffle tickets were sold, as everyone fell under the happy influence of the quilt (or was it the margaritas?).  Legendary Key West saloon-keeper and all-round character Captain Tony did the honors and drew the winning raffle ticket.  My memory is hazy, but I do remember a very nice monetary donation was made to Save the Manatee from the quilt raffle proceeds.

The Quilt-Maker, the Quilt-Winner & Captain Tony! (photo by Eric Ilasenko)
Even after making all 25 parrothead blocks, you can imagine how much tropical fabric I had left-over.  It was the beginning of love affair with tropical fabric and a never-ending stash!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Civil War Tribute BOM

I may be slow, but I am persistent!

I succumbed to this Civil War Tribute BOM subscription two years ago.  I was drawn to the blocks in the quilt, especially the center star.  Civil War reproduction fabrics are also favorites and I hadn't made a reproduction-style quilt in several years.  I knew I might not be able to start the BOM as soon as the monthly block selections began to arrive, but I did promise myself the quilt would not be a forever UFO.

Several months ago I was tidying up my sewing room and laid my hands on the BOM collection.  I made up my mind then and there to get the project started.  I rationalized I could easily make a block per month, instead of feeling overwhelmed by trying to complete the entire quilt from start to finish as a one-time project.

Sure enough, after an evenings' work, I had the first set of blocks completed!
Spinning Hourglass
It's very satisfying to finish one concrete step of the quilt in just a few hours.  I look forward to the challenge of completing the remaining 11 blocks.  I'm determined to stick to the block per month format, just to have the monthly reward factor!

Project info:  Civil War Tribute Block of the Month (2009)
Pattern designer:  Homestead Hearth
Fabric line:  Marcus Brothers Civil War Tribute Collection by Judie Rothermel

Friday, November 25, 2011

Not a Black Friday shopper...

I have no use for Black Friday sales.  My family is very low-key about exchanging Christmas gifts, so there is no need for frantic shopping.  And I really dislike crowds - not to mention crazy shoppers with pepper spray!

I did do a little online fabric shopping earlier this week.  One of my favorite online sites offered a fabric bundle called Around the World.
I was drawn to this FQ package by the selection featuring children of other countries:  Kokka Push Pin United Nations Natural .  I collect doll-themed fabrics and this one reminded me of some others in my collection.  Having some coordinating fabrics made the set very attractive!
The same online store also had a set of new Hoodie fabrics.  I've been a fan of Hoodie's fabric designs for some time, so these had to join my stash as well!
Hope your post-Thanksgiving Friday was a good one, however you chose to spend it!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Baby's Due Date Is Near!

I have been distracted by other events lately, and progress on the Deep, Deep Sea baby quilt has been slow.  I did spend some quality time with the quilt last weekend, so there's a good chance the quilt will be finished before the baby arrives (he is due in late December).
As I was piecing the squares, the thought occurred to me this pattern would make up nicely using some of the coordinated Christmas fabric collections that are now so widely available.  In fact, Kate Spain's "Flurry" came to mind!  (BTW, I have no affiliation with The Fat Quarter Shop, I'm just a happy customer)
I've decided to use the Deep, Deep Sea panel as part of the quilt back;  I'll piece it with some additional fabric as it's not large enough alone.  
I'm auditioning binding fabric:  Caribbean green with a little turquoise here.

Solid blue, more of a royal blue, here.
Decisions, decisions...

Monday, November 21, 2011

New Orleans Sunflowers

I have always had a fondness for sunflowers.  Their cheerful yellow blooms seem to be sunshine, personified.  After the devastating floods following Hurricane Katrina, sunflowers bloomed in the most unlikely places all over New Orleans, symbolizing the rebirth and resilience of my city.  I started envisioning sunflower quilts.

I discovered Anita Shackelford's Arizona Sunflowers quilt a year or so after the flood.  Somehow a forlorn copy of Fons & Porter's Love of Quilting got left behind on the magazine rack at my local grocery, even though the magazine was months out of date!  The Arizona Sunflower quilt graced the cover of the magazine, and I snatched up that lone copy just for the sunflower pattern.
Arizona Sunflowers from Fons & Porter's Love of Quilting, Sept/Oct 2006
As usual, it took me several years to get started on the quilt.  I decided to change the colors just a bit, aiming for muted blues in place of the brown baskets and border.  I also wanted to challenge myself to doing needle-turn applique for the sunflowers, leaves and stems (the pattern is written for machine applique).  I had never done much hand applique, so I turned to my favorite tutor - Google - and experimented with applique methods until I found the technique I liked best.  I began appliqueing the sunflowers late last fall and finished piecing and assembling the quilt last month.
New Orleans Sunflowers!
I'll be the first to say I made several mistakes with the applique process.  For example, the instructions led me to applique all the sunflowers, but there was no mention of leaving some un-stitched areas in which to insert the ends of the stems.  When it came time to applique the vines, I had no desire to snip any of my hand applique stitches, so I just tucked the cut ends of the stems inside themselves and appliqued everything down as best I could.  The baskets were also kind of a bear to piece.  I wound up hand-piecing the base of each basket and even then some of my corners got cut off!
My original thought was that I would also hand-quilt my sunflowers.  Now I'm feeling less inclined to do so.  I'm rather reluctant to quilt through all those triangles in the basket blocks - I really dislike stab-stitching through all those layers.  I think I will be asking one of my favorite machine quilters to collaborate with me on the quilting!
I'm sorry I couldn't get the blue baskets and border to show up better!  Here's one of the sunflowers next to the backing fabric.  I just need to finish trimming the fabric layers under the applique and get the backing pieced.  I'm so ready to have this hanging on the wall and making me smile every day!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pieces of the Past: St. Anne's Virtual Sewing Machine Gallery

Several years into my quilting life, I came across a treadle sewing machine in an antique store.  I was captivated by the colorful flower-like decals on the cast-iron machine head.  I rationalized that a quilter should have a connection to the quilters of history, and an antique sewing machine was a great connection.  The machine came home with me.  It proved a decorative conversation piece and my young sons loved to mash the pedal up and down.

Fast forward several years - another antique store - another sewing machine.  This one was in a charming wooden box and had a hand crank instead of a treadle.  It followed me home as well.  By that time, the internet was just beginning to demonstrate its usefulness as a research tool, and I immediately took to the web to find out more about my new machine.  I discovered a network of antique sewing machine resources and I was hooked!

It didn't take long to discover that as much as I loved the hunt for antique sewing machines, my house didn't have room for a huge collection.  Instead, I focused my collecting energy on sewing machine-related Victorian trade cards.  Victorian trade cards (sometimes called Chromos) became popular in the late 1870s when new technology came along that made color printing easily and inexpensively accessible.  The cards were used for advertising products and services; they became wildly popular due to the novelty of color printing and romantic images pictured.

It was easy to find sewing machine cards for sale online and I developed a nice collection.  As I acquired new cards, I was inspired to learn about the history of the sewing machines and the various sewing machine manufacturers in the US and abroad.  For several years I maintained a website - St. Anne's Virtual Sewing Machine Gallery - devoted to sewing machine trade cards.  Eventually I pulled the plug on the site, as web design and coding became ever more complex and sophisticated - I just didn't have the time to keep up with the changes!

I still am on the lookout for new cards, and thumb through the collection albums on a regular basis.  I hope you don't mind if I bring out some of these old chestnuts from time to time!  They are a great window into the past - giving a peek at the everyday life of seamstresses who stitched before us.

More Sewing Machine Cards

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Vegetable Dye Progress & Corner Triangles

I guess I need a better name for this quilt than Vegetable Dye!  I've finished piecing all the corner triangles for the snowball blocks; now I need to do more corner triangles for the sashing.  That's a lot of corner triangles!

I've tried a variety of methods for sewing this type of triangle and I'm always unhappy with the result.  I finally decided to just be old-fashioned and lightly draw a pencil line from corner to corner and follow it as my stitching line.  I get much more accurate results than pressing in the stitch line or just eyeballing it.  I try to organize the process by cutting all the squares needed, then doing the stitch line drawing during "hand work" time (usually while watching football on the weekends!).

When it's time to stitch, I just line everything up and chain piece one block after another.

After stitching, I use the trusty rotary cutter and ruler to trim off the excess triangles and leave a quarter inch seam.  I don't like to throw away the sliced off triangles, so I immediately scoop them up and chain piece them through the machine as well.  I find if I stitch them into half-square triangles immediately, I'm less likely to get discouraged by their size and number and wind up tossing them in the trash.

In this case, I'm just using a quarter-inch seam guide (the magnet on the sewing machine bed), as I don't particularly like that 1/4 inch presser foot and I was too lazy to go get a better one from another machine!  When I'm finished chain-stitching these, I leave the thread attached and just save them for another project.

Another method for "saving" the excess triangles would be to use the diagonal line on the corner squares as a presser foot guide.  Make two parallel rows of stitching on either side of the pencil line, then cut the squares in half diagonally along the pencil line.   The result is the corner triangle on your pieced block and an extra set of half-square triangles for another project! 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pieces of the Past: Album Quilt

One of the first books I ever purchased as a budding quilter was Remember Me:  Women & Their Friendship Quilts by Linda Otto Lipsett (Quilt Digest Press, 1985).

I bought the book to learn more about traditional signature quilts, but found the historical stories of the quilters profoundly touching.  One of the most memorable stories is "Till Death Do Us Part", about Lucy Irena Blowers Tolford, whose friendship quilt commemorated friends and family left behind in New York state when she moved to frontier Michigan in 1849.  Lucy used the Chimney Sweep block (also known as Album block) and collected signatures to remind her of those she was leaving behind.

Lucy's quilt inspired me to create my own family memory quilt.  I started making blocks with a set of coordinated fabrics from Keepsake Quilting.  Instead of following the pattern in the book, I came up with my own way to strip-piece the blocks, trimming excess fabric along the edges to create the corner triangles.  

My paternal grandmother

I inked all the "signatures" myself, using a lightbox and an alphabet from The History and Technique of Lettering by Alexander Nesbitt (Dover Publications 1957).

My father

To get the appropriate number of blocks, I even included pets!

Beloved Golden Retriever!

When the blocks were complete, I found a fantastic antique-looking rose print, and used setting squares in a dark red and black print.  I outline quilted all the blocks, then life intervened and my album quilt languished for a couple of years!

My friend Annie came to the rescue and machine quilted the sashing and borders for me.

The simple leaf and vine quilting was the perfect finish and at last the quilt was DONE!

I began working on this quilt some time between 1988-1989.  It was finally finished in 2004.  My antique-inspired quilt is well on its way to actually becoming an antique!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pressing & Slicing: the Relaxation Factor

I spent a happy few hours last night relaxing with my iron and rotary cutter.

Sometimes, after working all day and attending to Household Chores That Must Be Done, I convince myself I'm too tired to fondle fabric.  That road just leads to frustration and stress, so I try very hard to avoid that mindset.  Usually with just a little mental urging, I find myself petting fabric in one way or another.

So it was last night.  I wandered into my sewing room, knowing I really needed to start cutting fabric for the current baby gift quilt.  I realized the quilt fabric needed serious pressing before cutting could commence and that motivated me, because I love ironing!  In fact, I really love ironing fabric now because I recently discovered my new favorite quilting tool:  Faultless Maxx Starch!
Living in South Louisiana, I was always resistant to starching my quilting fabric.  I was afraid if I starched and put the fabric away, it would attract bugs. We have plenty of those - no need to set out a welcome mat for them!  A recent venture into hand applique got me using Mary Ellen's Best Press as a means to prepare applique pieces for stitching.  That foray into starching quilt fabrics was a success, and the fear of starch began to recede.  A blog entry from a few weeks back (forgive me, I don't remember whose blog!) recommended the Maxx starch because it was inexpensive and had a non-aerosol sprayer.  Lo and behold, I spied the very thing on my next trip to the grocery store for the amazing price of $1.99!  Amazingly accessible (no trip to the quilt store required), no aerosol propellant to harm the ozone and cheaper than that other fancy starch!

My current method is to only starch the fabric before cutting - no starching and storing.  I apply a generous spray of starch to the area to be pressed, then use a dry iron to smooth away wrinkles and activate the stiffening properties of the starch.  I find the stiffer the fabric (and Maxx can make the fabric almost board-like), the smoother and more accurate the cutting.  I do not recommend using additional starch once the fabric is cut, as moisture of any kind tends to distort the fabric.

I proceeded to cut the ever-popular 2.5 inch strips from my Deep, Deep Sea fabric.  Of course, it would've been quicker to purchase a package of pre-cut strips for this quilt - but where's the fun in that?  There's just something elementally satisfying about fondling larger pieces of fabric and prepping them for slicing and dicing.  Even the repetitive motions of rotary cutting have a soothing rhythm - unless you're using a dull cutting blade!  

In just a short time, I had an interlude of relaxation therapy AND a stack of 2.5 inch cut strips for the baby quilt.  

Just wondering - how do you feel about using starch on quilting fabrics?  Starch-aholic or starch-aphobic?